At the start of each new year Americans famously renew their promises to shed pounds and tone muscles, and many of them do, but finding ways to strengthen our mental health is just as important as getting our bodies in shape.

 “Stress can impact job performance, productivity, communication, and other aspects of work life,” said Gina McDonald, senior health coach for Capital Blue Cross.

There are ways to help get the mind in shape to meet those mental health challenges, she added, and you don’t have to wait until New Years’ to get started.

For example, McDonald and colleagues in the Health, Promotion, and Wellness team at Capital offer employer groups a presentation called “Healthy Mind Basics”  – simple, scientifically based suggestions for strengthening the mind to better handle stress and anxiety.

“Think of it as a balanced ‘diet’ for mental health,” McDonald said. “There are ways to feed your mind with nutrients that will enhance your brain health. These are things that everyone can do, and that every employer can support in the workplace to help employees cope with stress.”

While not an exhaustive list, McDonald cited eight activities that can help strengthen the mind and lower stress levels:

  • Focus: Spend time each day on a special challenge that involves focus or stimulation. For example, prepare for a big presentation, lead a meeting, or plan an upcoming holiday event.

  • Play: Participate in hobbies and new experiences.

  • Connect: Take time to reach out to your inner circle to keep connections consistent. 

  • Exercise: Move your body to increase your heart rate. Shoot for 150 minutes of moderate activity per week.

  • Reflect: Meditating in a quiet, calm place, even for five minutes can help relieve stress.

  • Gratitude: Find a healthy way to express gratitude, such as journaling, writing thank you letters, or thinking about people who inspired you. Studies have shown that gratitude makes us feel happier and more content by altering neural structures in the brain.

  • Relax: Down time is important. Let your mind wander, whether it be watching television or a movie, scrolling your smart phone, or reading a book. Take time to unwind.

  • Sleep: Try for 7-9 hours each night. This is the time for the brain to rest and recover.

“Take notice where your mental health diet might need some more attention as well as where it strongly supports you each day,” McDonald said. “As our bodies need nutrients each day to thrive, so do our minds.”